Addiction to selfies: a mental disorder?

woman taking a selfie on smartphone.jpeg

Selfies are an increasingly popular trend in the modern world, and have solidified themselves as a major part of online social media activity and everyday life. Of course, selfies themselves are not a terrible thing. It makes sense that people would want to photograph themselves at major events, meeting a celebrity, or even just with friends. The old days of flicking through a photo album only to realise that dad isn't in any of the pictures because he was behind the camera are gone, as the majority of people now have smartphones with two, sometimes even three, cameras.

But a growing number of psychologists are showing concern over the selfie phenomenon. While the act of taking a selfie may not be inherently bad, the motivations behind it can be, and can lead to disastrous results. Cyber-bullying is a major problem all over the world for people who have an active online presence, especially young people. While that is a major issue, and one that can be worsened by constant selfie posting, the problem on the home side of the screen is often overlooked.

The prominence and perceived importance of selfies has led to a number of issues becoming increasingly prevalent in young people. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are on the rise as people become far more self-conscious about their image. Selfies are a major factor in this, as people see the photos as an important way to receive validation from others. Many of us realise that most selfies do not present a realistic body image, but that doesn't prevent people from feeling insecure or inadequate, which results in many people going to extreme lengths to secure this validation from their peers, or even strangers. On the flip side, selfies have also been linked to an increase in vanity and narcissism, which have negative effects on people's mental health, personality, behaviour and world view.

The real problem lies with the reason people are taking selfies, and how often they do so. While many people take selfies to show that something big has happened, like finishing a long hike or seeing their favourite musician in concert, more and more people are taking selfies that revolve solely around how they look. If this becomes a daily occurrence, the purpose shifts to vanity or a search for approval. People begin to take every mundane moment of their life and use it to try and validate themselves or demonstrate that they have a great life. This becomes an obsession, and each shot has to be more perfect than the last. When the validation is not received, they end up feeling dejected and disliked, and the self-centred world view that has been established takes a very personal hit. It also results in people becoming unhealthily preoccupied with how others perceive them.

Last year, Russian psychiatrists suggested that selfie addiction should be classified as a mental illness, as it bears such strong similarities to other addictions and can have detrimental psychological effects. Dr. Shah, an Indian psychiatrist, has stated that selfie addiction "will be on the top of the list of Global Burden of Diseases".

While people may feel that comparing selfie taking to addiction is too dramatic, it is a scientifically sound claim that few, if any, mental health professionals would dispute. The most important thing to remember is that selfies, just like everything else in the world, are best done in moderation.

David Clarke